By Rhiannon Chester
I had the opportunity to attend the 27th National Conference on LGBTQ Equality: Creating Change in Denver, Colorado with the staff at LGBT Detroit from Feb. 4-8. Creating Change brings together thousands of activists, artists, scholars, allies and enthusiasts to share and discover together. There was an over abundance of workshops and activities that allowed for the opportunity to learn from a plethora of experiences and angles. There was no shortage of brilliance at this conference. I was able to attend National Black Justice Coalition’s Annual Day Long Black Institute, themed “#BlackLivesMatter: Where Do We Fit in the Conversation?”
During the day long institute we discussed intersections of race and identity but also looked at the big issues for black LGBTQ people including; economic empowerment, political empowerment, anti-violence, racial justice, family and faith. On Friday, Feb. 6, I co-presented a workshop called “Leading Within Our Intersections” that explored the relationship between being multi-marginalized and leadership. It was about realizing how our experiences prepare us to lead and the barriers that we face because of our identities. I also attended other workshops: “Presentation Skills for LGBTQ Advocates,” “Exploring Justice in the Body” and “Let’s Talk: Ageism and Feminism.” I was able to attend the film screening of “Out in the Night,” a documentary about four black lesbians from New Jersey that were jailed after being harassed and attacked in New York.
Unfortunately, there was no specific space to discuss black lesbianism during the conference. However, I discussed my experiences as a black lesbian in all the spaces I entered. I showed up whole and unapologetic about my experiences and how they are different from mainstream narratives because of the way my identity is configured.
There is power in vulnerability. As I discovered throughout the conference, I have a different story to tell; we all do, and there is power in making oneself heard. From the #TransLivesMatter takeover at the opening plenary that halted Denver’s mayor’s welcome, the #BlackLivesMatter takeover and the Bi-Pride march through the hotel, we had no choice but to pay attention and respect the message. I left the conference feeling humbled and empowered to continue the work in Detroit but also ready to have more conversations about the intersections of black lesbianism. “Out in the Night” showcased a list of realities for black lesbian women including the stereotypes associated with black women, stigma of black masculinity, lesbian motherhood, sexual assault, street harassment and sexism and the criminal justice systems’ treatment of people of color. Without entering the oppression Olympics, we must recognize the ways that black lesbian women are marginalized and misrecognized in the conversation of LGBTQ rights. The fight for women’s rights that includes lesbian, bi and trans* women is far from over, and in that fight, the realities of racism must also be addressed.